We started out thinking we might do Top Ten Romance Films (you know, in honor of Valentine’s Day). While combing through possible contenders, we realized there are a ton of sappy rom-coms out there that seem to strive only to make teenage girls clutch their boyfriends’ hands and a handful of tissues at the same time, without offering any real basis in reality—or love. But there are so many other movies out there (as well as other works of art, like novels, even TV shows) that are emotionally resonant without being vapid. So we switched gears and are proud to present our top ten “tearjerkers.” Romance not included. Well, maybe some.
—Joe & Danielle
1. Up | 2009
I very rarely cry during movies, being as rugged and manly as I am, but the first few minutes of Pixar’s “Up”—man, is that rough. You never really expect a gut punch like that from an opening sequence to a kid’s movie, but the wistful recounting of a lifelong relationship, including a struggle to have children, that culminates in the protagonist sitting alone in front of his beloved wife’s coffin kills me every time. As much as I enjoy “Up,” I kind of resent it for making me feel all these feelings.—JK
2. Toy Story 3 | 2010
Following Joe’s lead, Disney/Pixar comes into your
childhood adulthood like a wrecking ball (minus the naked Miley Cyrus on top AKA Disney gone wrong). It’s bad enough Andy’s going off to college (are we really that old already?) but then the toys get accidentally dropped at a daycare made of nightmares and boogers, their lives are turned upside-down by a homicidal teddy bear, and they wind up in an incinerator and they’re trying to get out and they realize it’s useless and they all commit to the fact that they’re about to die and they hold hands to face it together and—WHAT THE HELL, DISNEY. Pretend you don’t already have tears in your eyes over toy deaths (can they even feel pain?), because they get rescued (whew), but you don’t realize the conclusion of this film is a one-two-punch until Andy brings his pals over to Bonnie’s house and finds Woody at the bottom of the box. He never meant to give away his best bud, but he gives a heart-wrenching speech about what makes Woody special: “He’ll never give up on you, ever. He’ll be there for you, no matter what.” Kids will take the speech at face value, but adults—especially those who graduated college a month before this film’s release and have been thrust into the real world and are quickly realizing that it’s time to leave childhood behind—will take it for the lovely metaphor it is and may or may not find themselves ugly crying in a room full of strangers. So long, partner. ❤ —DT
3. 11/22/63 by Stephen King | 2011
I’ve been a constant King reader since I was in my early teens. I love the genre and think he’s one of the best. King’s 2011 novel 11/22/63 is one of his best in a decade. Other than being an awesome time travel story where a schoolteacher devises a plan to stop the John F. Kennedy assassination, the main plot is a love story between the teacher and a woman he meets in the past. He’s forced to choose between changing the world for the better or saving her, which makes for a surprisingly emotionally-charged conclusion.—JK
4. Free Willy | 1993
Oh god, this movie. I’ve mentioned once or twice (or a few dozen times) that I grew up by the ocean, so it should come as no surprise that marine mammals hold a huge soft spot in my heart. I was six years old when my mom took me to the theater to see this and I was crying right along with Willy when Jesse discovered that he had a family waiting for him. It has remained one of my all-time favorite movies to this day, and yeah, I still get a little teary-eyed when Jesse asks Glen for help (“I gotta look out for Willy and I gotta do what’s best for him”) and when Willy finally leaps to his freedom at the end. The trailer below doesn’t leave much room for imagination for those who have never seen it, but I don’t think spoiler alerts apply when a film is 22 years old. It’s kind of the original Blackfish.—DT
5. Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Jr. | 1978
This one is pretty heavy. While the Darren Aronofsky film adaptation is a harrowing visceral experience, Selby’s novel captures the emotional heart of the story—the relationship between drug addicts Harry and Marion. While hyperbolic at times, the book shows the toll that drug addiction can take on a promising future and how it can warp the love between two people into something toxic. It’s not an easy read, but it’s a good one.—JK
6. The Impossible | 2012
Chances are, if just the trailer alone for a film chokes you up, the movie is going to be a powerhouse. Have tissues handy for this one. Seriously, when my mother and sister and I went to the theater for this true story of a tourist family caught in the 2004 tsunami that struck Thailand, we went prepared with a whole box. And we needed them. Naomi Watts received an Oscar nod for her role as the matriarch of a family that gets separated when the Indian Ocean rises up and batters the coast: the unflinching, 10-minute scene is terrifyingly realistic. Their journey to reconnect with one another is harrowing, gut-wrenching, heart-breaking—but by the end, the tears (and there are so. many. tears.) are happy ones.—DT
7. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway | 1940
My personal favorite Hemingway novel is also a tragic love story about a newspaper reporter, Robert Jordan, falling in love with an anti-fascist guerilla, Maria, during the Spanish Civil War. Hemingway’s swashbuckling prose propels the story forward, but there is real heart beneath all of his characteristic machismo.—JK
8. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey | 1993
Another traumatic animal movie for a child. This film slays me. What kind of movie is this for children?! Three beloved pets believe they have been abandoned and decide to trek across the California wilderness to find their way home and each wind up in a life-threatening predicament. As a golden retriever owner, Shadow was my fave, and so the scene below tends to annihilate my heart. And the ending? Don’t. Can’t. WHO’S CHOPPING ONIONS?—DT
9. Rocky | 1976
The Rocky franchise has slipped into something of self-parody with its progressively silly sequels (including the one with the robot butler). But the original “Rocky,” which went on to win three Academy Awards, is an excellent underdog story about a Philly boxer fighting for respect and the love of his life, Adrian. The climactic fight, which Rocky actually loses, is an emotional tour de force.—JK
10. A Walk to Remember | 2002
You gotta give me at least one Nicholas Sparks. I am female, after all—we’re all about those damn Nicholas Sparks movies, apparently. Before The Notebook exploded and every single Sparks novel just had to go and become one of those movies (the ones with the teenage girls and the tissues and the crying), there was a little movie called A Walk to Remember (worst title ever). It wasn’t the first Sparks movie (that was actually Message in a Bottle in 1999, but no one thinks of that one because it didn’t star attractive young people), but it is, in my opinion, the best one. Yes, even though it doesn’t have Ryan Gosling in it. Instead, it stars Shane West and Mandy Moore (proving here that she is actually capable of decent acting) as the classic bad boy / good girl routine with a twist—she’s dying. And she doesn’t tell him until after he’s already fallen in love with her. Not very nice for a reverend’s daughter. And despite allllll the clichés (and there are a ton), it still gets me every time. Particularly that part on the right. Aaaand the one below.—DT
Danielle: The only book, aside from Harry Potter, that ever made me cry, Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah. Also, obviously, Harry Potter. I’m convinced that the “Piertotum Locomotor” scene from Deathly Hallows Part 2 will give me chills and heart palpitations for the rest of my life. When I saw it for the first time in the theater on opening night, I was half convinced I was about to stroke out in my seat. Also, this:
UGH, right in the feels every time.
Let’s see, what else … Marley & Me is pretty obvious if you’ve ever loved a dog and had to watch the life leave their eyes. My sister and I clutched each other in our theater seats and sobbed. I don’t know if it would have the same impact a second time around because I will never touch that movie with a ten foot pole again. The book is no easier. Titanic, while totally cliché, is pretty rough the first time, especially for an emotionally-stunted 15-year-old. (“Wow! I can cry! Wait, why are you letting go of Jack … you said you’d NEVER LET GO!”) And finally, one of the most underrated television family dramas of all time, NBC‘s Parenthood. If you can make it through this scene without your eyes welling over, I’m not sure you have a soul. And for dolphin lovers: A chilling documentary about the annual slaughter that takes place in Taiji, Japan called “The Cove.” It won an Oscar in 2010. It’s not easy to watch (not just because the pivotal scene had me sobbing uncontrollably in front of my roommates), but it’s worth it. Spreading awareness is key.
Did we cover any of your favorite (if there can be such a thing) tearjerkers?
If not, see if they made this EW.com list.